I think all the hubbub of the Christmas season finally got to me.  I found myself pushed to the limits of my strength many times; however, I kept on going.  The last few days before the holiday were quite stressful and I did something I was determined not to do – I sat up late Christmas Eve finishing the last sewing project for a grandchild.

For me, it was truly a “sea-son.”  I stitched four shark blankets – one for each of my grandsons – and a child-sized mermaid tail for a granddaughter, as well as one for another granddaughter’s doll.  My efforts were well rewarded when I watched three of the boys open their gifts.  7-year-old Liam tore into his box first.  Even though the sharks were all the same size, I put them into boxes that did not match.  However, the other boys decided their packages contained sharks, too.  Liam’s little brother Colton (2) kept saying, “Daddy shark!” as he ripped into his present.  Their cousin Elijah (3) was excited about finding a shark in his box also.  My daughter, Molly, sent pictures of Lincoln (7) with his shark and Melody (5) with her mermaid tail.  They were not able to come this year, but according to Molly, they were very thrilled with their gifts.

My two oldest granddaughters have always enjoyed cooking with Grammie.  Now they are interested in sewing.  Maggie (14) wanted fabric and patterns for Christmas.  Since Vivian (8) already had a mermaid tail from a different source, I put together a sewing box for her present this year, including several buttons from my collection.  I spent part of the holiday afternoon teaching her to sew them onto fabric, thinking all the while that attaching buttons was one of the first things my mother taught me to do with a needle and thread.

I must have worn myself to a frazzle because now I am dealing with some sort of respiratory virus.  I had decided to relax the day after Christmas but then started straightening up my sewing room.  The next day I started feeling poorly but attributed it to weariness.  By Friday evening I could tell it was much more than that.  Saturday and Sunday were, for the most part, spent in my recliner.  Thankfully, I had decided on soup recipes for this week’s column, so I had made a huge pot of chicken soup and it, along with chili I made on Thursday last week, has been handy for meals that I don’t feel like cooking.  Besides the recipe for Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup, I am including one that people ask for quite often – Cream of Anything Soup and its companion, “Make Your Own Condensed Soup.”  Thankfully, I had the two flavors I needed in the freezer already when I was checking the ingredients for the recipe I was trying.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

1 tablespoon butter

1 large onion, chopped

3 cups chopped cooked chicken

5 cups chicken broth

1 (10-3/4 ounce) can cream of celery soup, undiluted (may use mushroom)

1 (10-3/4 ounce) can cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1/2 pound linguine, broken into 2-inch pieces (may use spaghetti)

7 celery ribs, diced

6 medium carrots, diced (or use 4 diced baby carrots for each carrot)

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

2 cups milk

2 cups shredded medium or sharp Cheddar cheese (optional)

Melt butter in a large pot (at least 4 quart) over medium heat; add onion; sauté until tender.

Stir in chicken and next 9 ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer 45 minutes.

Stir in milk; return to a simmer.  Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes.  If desired, sprinkle with cheese.  Yield: about 12 cups.

Cream of Anything Soup

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Dash cayenne pepper (may omit)

1-1/2 cups milk

2 cups chicken broth or stock

1/2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend (such as Mrs. Dash)

1 teaspoon onion powder or a small chopped onion

Your choice of ingredients from the flavor chart listed below

In a soup pot, over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and brown, stirring constantly.

Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, milk, broth, seasoning blend, and onion.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly.

Choose ONE of the following flavors; add main ingredient (pureed or chopped) and the

corresponding seasonings to soup, reduce heat to low and cook until vegetables are tender;

stirring often to keep soup from sticking to pan.

Flavor Chart:

A:  2 cups asparagus + 1 teaspoon lemon juice, dash of ground nutmeg or mace

B:  1-1/2 cups green beans + 1/2 teaspoon crushed savory

C:  2 cups broccoli + 1/2 teaspoon thyme, dash of garlic powder, 1 bay leaf

D:  1 cup carrots + 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes, 1/2 teaspoon basil

E:  2 cups cauliflower + 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

F:  1-1/2 cups zucchini + dash nutmeg

G: 1-1/2 cups mushrooms + dash nutmeg

H: 2 cups chopped cooked chicken + 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning 

I:  2 cups chopped celery + 1/2 teaspoon Mrs. Dash + 1/4 teaspoon rubbed thyme

Make-Your-Own Condensed Soup

2 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

Dash cayenne pepper

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk (I have substituted 12 ounces of unsweetened almond milk)

1/2 cup chicken broth or stock

1/2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend (such as Mrs. Dash)

One of these, with its seasonings:

Asparagus: 2 cups; 1 teaspoon lemon juice, dash of nutmeg or mace

Broccoli: 2 cups; 1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme, dash of garlic powder

Cauliflower: 2 cups; 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Mushroom: 1-1/2 cups; dash nutmeg

Chicken: 2 cups; 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Celery: 2 cups; 1/4 teaspoon rubbed thyme

Choose flavor of soup from list; prepare vegetables or chicken (finely chop).

In heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add flour; stir until browned.

Add salt, pepper, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.  Whisk in milk, broth, and seasoning blend.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly.

Add vegetables or chicken, plus suggested seasonings.  Reduce heat to low and cook until vegetables are tender; stirring often to keep soup from sticking to pan.  Remove from heat; cool.

Recipe equals 2 cans of condensed soup.  Freeze half, if desired, for later use.